Recording Industry to Sue Internet Song Swappers
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By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A recording-industry trade group said on Wednesday it plans to sue hundreds of individuals who illegally distribute copyrighted songs over the Internet, expanding its anti-piracy fight into millions of homes.
The Recording Industry Association of America (news - web sites) said it hopes to curb illegal song downloading by tracking down the heaviest users of popular "peer to peer" services like Kazaa and suing them for thousands of dollars in damages.
"We're going to begin taking names and preparing lawsuits against peer-to-peer network users who are illegally making available a substantial number of music files to millions of other computer users," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a conference call.
The RIAA believes the popular peer-to-peer services, which allow users to copy music, movies and other files from each others' hard drives, are partly responsible for a decline in CD sales, and has aggressively sought to shut them down.
But until now the industry has shied away from directly suing users, opting instead to send them online warnings and clutter up the networks with dummy files.
Some advocates have argued the networks provide a harmless way for music fans to discover new artists, but Sherman and other music-industry figures likened them to shoplifters who steal groceries and other tangible goods.
A recent court ruling makes it easier to track down copyright violators through their Internet providers, and Sherman said investigators would begin to track down hundreds of users who make their digital-music collections available for copying. Lawsuits asking for statutory damages of $150,000 per count will likely be filed in six to eight weeks, he said.
The industry will not initially target those who do not allow others to copy their music collections, he said. Music fans who wish to avoid legal action should change the settings on their peer-to-peer software to block access to their hard drives, or uninstall the software completely, he said.
The RIAA has managed to shut down Napster (news - web sites) Inc., the first peer-to-peer service, and several successors. But the trade group suffered a setback last month when a judge ruled that two other networks, Grokster and Morpheus, should not be shut down because they do not control what is traded on their systems.
"The RIAA, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to not only alienate their own customers but attempt to drive them into bankruptcy through litigation. So therefore they probably won't be able to afford to buy any music even if they want to," said Grokster President Wayne Rosso, who added he does not support copyright infringement.
Four college students agreed last month to pay between $12,000 and $17,500 each after the RIAA sued them for allegedly operating illegal song-swapping networks on campus.
RIAA members include AOL Time Warner Inc (NYSE:AOL - news). Vivendi Universal (NYSE:V - news), Sony Corp (news - web sites) (6758.T)., Bertelsmann AG (news - web sites) (BERT.UL), and EMI Group Plc (news - web sites) (EMI.L).